It's a new season and a new perspective for Phillies announcer Larry Andersen

Photo: Miles Kennedy

It's a new season and a new perspective for Phillies announcer Larry Andersen

It's a half-hour before game time on a Sunday afternoon in Bradenton, Florida. Larry Andersen has just finished going through piles of notes — "big-league prep," he likes to call it — as he gets set to join his friend and partner, Scott Franzke, on his last radio broadcast of spring training. The weather is gorgeous and Andersen steps out of the press box to soak up a little sun. He wants to do more of that this season because he loves the game, the Phillies, the city and, most of all, the fans. The most difficult winter of his life is over. He enters Thursday's season opener — his 22nd as part of the Phillies broadcast team — with a new, brighter perspective on everything.

"But don't you worry," Andersen says as he begins to tell his story. "I'm still going to get on umpires."

While most of us spent the winter with a raging case of Harper-mania, Andersen was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. The doctors didn't like what they were seeing in October. The diagnosis confirmed an aggressive form of cancer in November. He had surgery in December and passed the three-month mark during spring training.

"They tell me I'm cancer-free now," he says, a look of relief sweeping over his face.

He talks of all the people who helped him get through the ordeal, people like Vince Nauss and Jeff Boettcher, his friends from Baseball Chapel, he talks about becoming a Christian in 1980 and how his faith has grown since then, how it carried him through the winter. He talks about the love and support of his wife, Kristi, and his baseball and broadcasting friends, like Franzke. He talks about his children, Angie, Tania and Chase, all adults spread out around the country.

"The hardest thing for me was not having them hear my voice crack when I told them," he says.

Larry Andersen first encountered mortality on March 10, 1967. He still remembers his sister, Linda, coming into his bedroom and saying, "Dad's been in an accident." Dale Andersen was a pilot for a small, West Coast commuter airline. His plane crashed shortly after takeoff in a blinding snowstorm. He was just 38. Larry was just 13 when he lost his best pal and backyard bullpen catcher.

Larry went on to become a seventh-round draft choice of the Cleveland Indians and pitched 17 seasons in the majors, six with the Phillies. He was a member of two Phillies World Series teams and has gained huge post-playing career popularity for his work in the broadcast booth and his familial connection with fans. He loves to share a laugh with them, maybe even a cold one if you catch him around town. And he loves to share his honest opinions about the game to which he has dedicated his life with them.

"No one has ever wanted this team to win more than me, maybe as much, but never more," Andersen says. "The reason I want this team to win so badly is because of the fans and I've said that forever. Some people might say you're pandering to the fans. I'm not. These fans have been so good to me. I can't put into words what the fans have shown me over the last 25 years in Philly."

Andersen is still standing high above home plate, soaking up the sun, watching Phillies players stretch on the field down below.

He says fans approach him often and thank him for "keeping it real," as the saying goes.

He shrugs pensively and offers that maybe there are times when he keeps it a little too real for some people's liking. He wouldn't say who those folks are.

"I would hope people can separate negativity from honesty," he says.

The game is changing. All sports are changing. Science and analytics and big data have taken their place at the table next to human experience and instinct. In some cases, the former has elbowed the latter from the table and maybe out of the game. Where once old-school baseball men would predict a pitcher like Nick Pivetta is ready for a breakout season because he now has experience to go with a great arm and talent, new-school baseball men predict the same thing by using new-age statistics like fielding-independent pitching, or FIP.

Andersen came up in a time when baseball people kept it real. Once upon a time not long ago, a Phillies general manager talked of releasing a player because "he has a hole in his bat." That probably would never happen in today's game, where a premium is kept on keeping the environment ultra-positive. There is really no right or wrong answer in all of this. Times change. Methods change.

A cancer scare at age 65 with a lot of life still to live can make Larry Andersen change.

"This thing has done a lot for my faith," he says. "I look at it and trust this is the Lord's plan. This is another way of saying, 'Get your act together, you're not going to be on this Earth forever.'

"It's also helped me from the perspective of stop worrying about stuff that's out of your control, stuff that's trivial. Don't let stuff bother me so much. I look back to my broadcasting, to last year. I know I was critical of the team. I was critical of a lot of things that I didn't agree with and Scott Franzke, my partner over 10 years, at the end of the season gave me some great advice. He said if you disagree with something, just disagree without anger.

"I'd see our young pitchers be compared to (Justin) Verlander and (Zack) Greinke because of their FIP and I didn't think it was fair to our pitchers or the fans. Those guys are Cy Young winners and our young guys hadn't even won 20 games in their careers because they hadn't been in the big leagues long enough. Those comparisons bothered me so much and I would try to give my side and it would come out with anger because I'm passionate and I care about winning. But with all of this other stuff happening, I was able to look back and say, 'Why? Why am I letting it bother me so much?'"

So, will Phillies fans be getting a watered-down Larry Andersen this season?

Hell no.

"I'll still be critical," he vows. "But I'm not going to be upset.

"I'll always be honest. You can snow people in San Diego, in Seattle, other places. You can't do that in Philly. You just can't BS the fans in Philly. They're too smart.

"When they're sitting at home and want to pick up a shoe and throw it at the TV, I know what they're feeling. I'm a fan, too. I know I work for the organization, but I'm a fan. And that's where I think I have a rapport with them. They feel frustration in my voice when they're frustrated watching.

"The last few years have been frustrating. It's been hard. But I really like this team. I love what they've done in the offseason. I'm ready to turn the corner and I think the fans are, too."

Opening day is Thursday. Regardless of what the weatherman says, there's sun in Larry Andersen's forecast.

"I'm going to look at things with brighter eyes," he said.

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Ricky Bottalico recalls the last time Major League Baseball shut down

Ricky Bottalico recalls the last time Major League Baseball shut down

Prior to the indefinite suspension of the 2020 season, the last time Major League Baseball completely shut down was September 2001. No games were played for a full week following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

NBC Sports Philadelphia Phillies analyst Ricky Bottalico was in his second stint as a Phillies reliever in 2001. He shared his recollections of that unique experience, beginning with the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. 

"We were in Atlanta to play the Braves and one thing I remember was getting phone calls in the morning to turn on the TV," Bottalico said. "We're baseball players so we're not necessarily up at 8:30 in the morning. You turn on your TV, you see what's going on and then the panic strikes. When is this going to affect us? Is this coming here? Atlanta has a heavy dose of planes coming in and out every day, do we have to do something different? We didn't have answers, at least in the first 24 hours we didn't have any answers. We all congregated in the hotel lobby and tried to get a better idea of exactly what was going on. At some point that morning you knew it was terrorist attacks." 

Bottalico and his teammates knew they weren't playing baseball that night. But the plan for the rest of the week was unclear. 

"As the days went on we got a feel for 'Ok we're not playing this series, we have a series in Cincinnati coming up, what are we going to do here?'" Bottalico remembers. "If anyone knows Larry Bowa, he's not real patient. Larry was like 'Come on get on the buses, we're going (to Cincinnati)'. Doug Glanville and myself were the (MLBPA) player reps at the time and we were in contact with our union. They were telling us most likely we're not playing the next series so if you're going to take a bus make sure you wait for us to tell you where to go. Well Bowa didn't want to wait, so we end up taking a bus to Cincinnati. Three hours after we started our trip we found out that series was cancelled. We were heading northwest to Cincinnati so we couldn't really turn back towards Philadelphia. 

"I remember getting into Cincinnati late at night and they told us they had a plane (to Philadelphia) for us the next morning. This was four days after 9/11. We went to the airport that morning, got on a charter jet, and nobody said a word on that flight. You could've heard a pin drop. Obviously it was a tense situation."

But unlike this present day scenario, Bottalico and the rest of the Phillies knew the 2001 season would resume at some point in the not too distant future. 

"We knew we were going to play," Bottalico said. "We knew this wasn't going to hold us back from playing for the whole season. We eventually got word that we were starting back up (the next week). I think from a player's standpoint then, we felt responsible to try to help get the nation back on its feet, be a distraction from what was going on in every day life. 

"We had to play again. There wasn't any danger of planes flying into stadiums, so we ended up playing and I think it helped America heal a little bit."  

Uncertain Times

The 2001 Phillies wanted to play again to help provide a sense of normalcy. But the week away from baseball was unnerving, especially that bus ride to Cincinnati.  

"I had a young daughter who was with the grandparents in Connecticut so it was scary in that sense," Bottalico admits. "My wife at the time was on the road trip. We had other wives on the trip who were pregnant so that was kind of scary. They're six or seven months pregnant at that point and you're talking about a 10 or 11 hour bus ride to Cincinnati. It was tough for them."

Some players were still trying to come to grips with what exactly the country was going through. 

"There were a lot of guys who were in disbelief," Bottalico said. "You're on a bus for 11 hours trying to figure out in your mind what could happen and what should happen. In my case obviously thinking about my daughter who was with her grandparents. It was a trying time. But after a few days of that, we felt an obligation to get back on the field."

First Game Back

The Phillies resumed their season on Monday, Sept. 17. They welcomed the first place Braves to town for a four-game series at Veterans Stadium. The Phillies entered that series just 3.5 games behind Atlanta in the NL East standings. 

But that first game back was about far more than baseball. 

"The greatest thing I remember from that night was the guy who had the American flag and he was walking around the whole stadium," Bottalico recalled. "That pretty much went on for that whole series. The guy with the American flag just kept walking around, and the chants of 'USA! USA! USA!'. It made you proud to be in that stadium that night. 

"There was an unbelievable tribute video which still plays in my mind because right at the end of it they showed a Jimmy Rollins at-bat and he starts running and as he rounds first base it transforms into a Little League kid running to second base. And the kid gets to second base and they pan out and behind second base its a shot of the New York City skyline with the World Trade Center towers. At that point there couldn't have been a dry eye in the stadium. 

"To be completely honest whether you won or lost that night, and it was odd because it was the Braves and it was the team we were chasing in the division, but it didn't matter what team you were on. I think everybody was just proud to be on that field."

The Phillies beat the Braves 5-2 that night behind a pair of Scott Rolen home runs off of Greg Maddux. 

Division Race

The Phillies won three of four against the Braves in that series to pull within a game and a half of the division lead. But the Phillies went 5-7 over their next 12 games and ultimately finished two games behind the Braves in the NL East.

Of course, Bottalico understands why the 2001 season was halted for a week following 9/11. But he wonders if things might have ended differently if the season would have played out without the delay. 

"I just remember being extremely fired up for that series in Atlanta (that was postponed)," Bottalico said. "We had an off day before the Tuesday that was 9/11 and I remember going in there and we were fired up, ready to play those guys. We didn't have the greatest pitching staff but I think going into that series we really felt like we had a shot. 

"I know we beat them up a little bit when they came to Veterans Stadium the following week after the break. But then we knew in the back of our minds that we had to go back to Atlanta (to make up the postponed series) at the end of the year. So things definitely changed a little bit. 

"We lost some adrenaline as that week unfolded. We had it early on when we first came back but we sputtered at times towards the end. We stayed right on their heels but I just really believe if things would have gone a little differently maybe the season would have ended a little differently."

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Forgotten Phillies opening day starters of the last 30 years

Forgotten Phillies opening day starters of the last 30 years

Steve Carlton, Terry Mulholland, Curt Schilling, Roy Halladay. There are certain eras of Phillies baseball over the last 40 years when you knew who was going to have the honor of being named opening day starter before spring training even started. This year, Aaron Nola was poised to take the ball for his third straight opening-day start. 

Since Carlton’s incredible run of starting 14 out of 15 openers, there have been 15 pitchers tabbed to start the season off for the Phillies but not all were household names. Here’s a look back at some of the pitchers you may have forgotten got the nod in Game 1 of 162.

2005-06: Jon Lieber

Lieber had a couple of pretty good seasons with the Cubs early in the 2000s, was an All-Star in ’01 when he won 20 games and started three straight Opening Days for them. But after having Tommy John surgery, he signed with the Yankees, missed all of ’03 and then bounced back with a solid 2004, good enough for the Phillies to sign him.

He won that '05 opener for the Phillies and had a pretty good campaign, winning 17 games and leading the NL in starts. He pitched another two unremarkable years for the Phils, going 12-17 with a 4.87 ERA.

2001/02: Omar Daal/Robert Person

Lumping these two together because it was a transition time for the Phillies. In the midst of their seventh straight sub-.500 finish, the Phillies traded ace Curt Schilling in July of 2000 to Arizona for four players, one of which was Daal. The lefty ended up losing 19 games in 2000, one game short of becoming the first pitcher in 20 years to lose 20. But that was good enough to earn (?) him the opening day start in 2001, the first with Larry Bowa as manager. Daal had a better year, going 13-7, but did have a 4.46 ERA.

Person also had a very solid season, going 15-7 with a 4.19 ERA. That got him the start in the 2002 opener, but he never found the same success on the mound as he did in ’01. At the plate, however, he had one of the more memorable days for a Phillies pitcher this century in a June game vs. Montreal. He hit a grand slam and a 3-run homer, going 3 for 4 with seven RBI.

2000: Andy Ashby

Ashby had come up in the Phillies system in the late '80s and actually made his MLB debut for the club in 1991. He was drafted by the Rockies in the expansion draft and ended up in San Diego, where he flourished. He was a two-time all-star, started a couple of openers and helped lead the Padres to the NL title in 1998.

When the Phillies traded three prospects for Ashby before 2000, they thought it gave them a legit 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation to go along with Schilling (who missed the beginning of 2000 due to injury). However, that didn’t work out. After going 4-7 with a 5.68 ERA, Ashby was traded during the All-Star break to the Braves for Bruce Chen.

1996: Sid Fernandez

Did you even remember Sid Fernandez was a Phillie? From 1994 through 1999, Schilling started five of six opening days for the Phils. When he started ’96 on the DL, in stepped Fernandez for the opening day honor. “El Sid” had some really good seasons with the vaunted Mets staff of the '80s, making a couple of All-Star games and helping them win a World Series.

Almost a decade later, he signed with the Phillies for the second half of the ’95 season and did well, posting a 3.34 ERA and going 6-1. He wasn’t as effective in ’96, which basically ended his career (he pitched one game for Houston the next season).

1990: Bruce Ruffin

Remembered more for his Chris Berman-given nickname, Bruce “Two Minutes For” Ruffin’s career started with a bang. He went 9-4 with a 2.46 ERA for the Phillies in 1986. But it kind of went downhill from there. Over the next five years with the club, he never finished above .500 and had only one year with an ERA below 4.00. But he got the opening day start in 1990 because someone had to. Partly because…

1989: Floyd Youmans

Maybe the original “new guy” that got the nod for the Phillies, Floyd Youmans had a promising start to his career in Montreal. He started the opener in ’87 at the age of 23, but injuries and a suspension derailed his time there. Before the 1989 season, the Phillies got him in a trade for Kevin Gross. Youmans started only 10 games for the Phillies in what was his final MLB season.

1987-1988: Shane Rawley

Rawley actually had a few good years with the Phils. He made the All-Star team in 1986 and won 17 games with a 3.54 ERA. In ’85, he won 13 with a 3.31. So when it came time to replace Carlton for Opening Day, the torch was passed to Rawley.

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